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Could CT Scans Detect Mesothelioma in Veterans Sooner?

Picture of a CT Scanner that can be used to diagnosis mesothelioma The long-standing debate over the effectiveness of CT scans (also known as CAT scans or computed tomography scans) versus chest x-rays in the fight against mesothelioma is over.  Last November the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) compiled data from 53,000 individuals and found that CT scans accurately diagnosed lung cancer sooner than chest x-rays.  In relation to traditional forms of lung cancer that translated to increasing the survival rate by up to 20%.

This information has spurred veteran’s groups across the country to launch pilot programs to use CT screening for veterans at high risk for lung cancer, including malignant pleural mesothelioma, an advanced lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  The programs would be funded by federal money and could benefit thousands of veterans who proudly served the United States in wartime and peacetime.

Veterans have a much higher rate of lung cancer compared to civilians partially due to their exposure to harmful chemicals and compounds during their service.  All Navy ships used asbestos insulation and other asbestos containing products liberally, which affected not only seamen but also soldiers (Marines and Army) being transported on those vessels and ship repairmen. 

Airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or ingested and spend years or even decades working their way into the thin membranes around the body’s internal organs, decades later malignant tumors.

Even though much of the asbestos has been removed from the military’s hardware and installation, for many, the damage is already done.  The typical incubation period for malignant mesothelioma (cancerous tumors in the lung, abdomen or heart) is 20 years.  However, that incubation period could be as little as 10 or extended as far as sixty years.  That means that many of the veterans who served in conflicts all the way up to the Vietnam War and beyond may still be at risk of developing cancer due to their earlier exposure. 

The veteran’s groups which now actively recommend CT screening for high risk patients include:

Money has been set aside to fund these programs in the organizations’ 2012 budgets. 

While there is currently no cure, current and future treatments fpr mesothelioma promise to give sufferers a better quality of life in the hopes that a cure can soon be found.  In fact, an innovative enzyme-based treatment for mesothelioma is currently undergoing testing in the UK that could actually lead to a progression rate of zero—meaning that once treatment has begun, the disease cannot get any worse.

Though the treatment is still in very early stages of testing, researchers are excited, hopeful, and have seen significant cause to be cautiously optimistic.